New GMF Bratislava Director Pavol Demeš (left) celebrates with GMF boss Craig Kennedy.
The GMF was established in 1972 by the German government in gratitude to the US for the Marshall Fund, through which hundreds of millions of dollars in aid were pumped into European countries to help them rebuild after the mass destruction of World War II. Today, the GMF annually doles out $8.8 million, primarily to non-profit organisations in both Europe and the US.
According to the new head of the Slovak GMF branch, Pavol Demeš, the Bratislava branch will annually have $2.3 million dollars at its disposal to grant to organisations in central and eastern Europe.
Demeš said that the GMF concentrates on four main areas: economic development, environmental protection and sustainability, study programmes for economic, political, environmental and NGO leaders, and assistance to countries with western integration ambitions. "The grantees are mainly independent non-government institutions helping to elevate democratic systems to a higher level and increase international co-operation between Europe and the US," said Demeš for the SITA news agency.
GMF head Kennedy said that Slovakia had been chosen as the regional headquarters because of its central location and the strength of its NGO sector - according to the Slovak Statistics Office, there are 11,982 organizations currently working in Slovakia's third sector.
"The office in Bratislava will be the main hub for Dr. Demeš's activities and for the work of GMF in the region," Kennedy told The Slovak Spectator on March 1. "The quality of the NGO community here is very impressive. Few other countries have as lively an NGO community or one with such experienced leadership."
The selection of Demeš as head of the new GMF headquarters was also well received by representatives of the Slovak NGO sector. "Pavol Demeš is a significant NGO figure in Slovakia," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, the president of the Bratislava-based think tank Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). "His activities as director of the Slovak Academic Information Agency have contributed greatly to the development of civil society in Slovakia." Demeš was officially appointed to the GMF post on October 14, 1999.
Kennedy said that the selection of Demeš had been an easy one, even though "over 100 senior people with extensive experience" had applied for the post. "We felt that Demeš had a unique mix of government and NGO experience," Kennedy said. "In the end he was a clear and easy choice. We all feel that it is a great honour that he was willing to join us."
Demeš brings to the post an impressive political and NGO resume. From 1991 to 1992, he served as Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, and later became Foreign Policy Advisor to President Michal Kováč from 1993 till 1997. Demeš got his NGO experience as head of the Slovak Academic Information Agency from 1992 to 1993 and from 1997 to 1999.
Demeš plans to be an active leader of the GMF, and allocated the first funds from the Bratislava branch to the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA) a full week before the official opening on February 21. The SFPA received funding for their project called "Transatlantic Relationship", which aims to improve the exchange of information between the SFPA and foreign policy NGOs in the US.
According to Ivo Samson, head of the SFPA Research Centre, the project was granted $40,000 which will be used to help SFPA analysts travel to the US and attend lectures on transatlantic co-operation; the second phase will see their American counterparts travelling to Slovakia. Funds will also go towards an SFPA campaign to promote foreign policy in Slovakia.
GMF representatives met with Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and President Rudolf Schuster on February 22 to discuss the importance of the third sector in the development of democratic societies. At the meetings, Kennedy said that Slovakia has taken great strides towards western integration, and noted that one the GMF's basic functions was to assist countries undergoing the transition to a democratic, free market environment. Kennedy also announced that Bratislava will host a GMF conference in April.
The GMF has two other European headquarters in Paris and Berlin, as well as direct representation in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic.